Hamlet, Literally…

December 31, 2009

**This is the review I wrote for the Collingswood Shakespeare Company's newsletter.  It's my first review!  And you have absolutely no idea how hard it was for me to write with a word-limit.  Sweet Christmas it was agony not to play in this play's quanta…***

Hamlet, Literally… 

      On
the surface, Michael Grandage’s recent production of Hamlet
has everything a theatergoer could hope for.  It’s a reasonably
well-acted, well-staged production – exciting and tragic in all the
right places.  Jude Law is in it, and he’s still preposterously
handsome (even at 38, he still looks like a Grecian statue, sprung from
its plinth).  But the sleek surface of Grandage’s production
comes at considerable cost to the subtext.  In fact, there is no
subtext.  For a play whose complexity captures the very chaos and
unknowing that make up human drama, the production is ironically predictable. 
Everyone’s in black.  Even Gertrude (who still insists, in spite
of this, that Hamlet cast off his “nighted colour”). “Denmark
is a prison,” Hamlet moans.  And he’s right.  Elsinore
looks to have been constructed entirely out of slabs of slate. 
The lighting is an unrelenting pall of wintery blues and silvers. 

      I’ve
heard it said that Grandage’s intention was to avail his play to everyone
– scholars and neophytes alike.  But while sitting in my seat,
I couldn’t help but think: Cliffs Notes.  Shakespeare’s
characters play out more like caricatures under Grandage’s direction. 
Law’s titular prince telegraphs nearly every line, flailing his arms
about in literal pantomime (he actually walks like an ape when talking
about an ape at one point), as though he’d studied acting directly
under Marcel Marceau.  The supporting characters are engulfed in
Grandage’s shallow literalism as well; Peter Eyre’s ghost is straight
out of a Halloween store.  He’s a ghoooost.  Each step he
takes on stage is but a part of a greater, languid, ectoplasmic sway
– he moves like a glob of sap oozing down a tree.  He warbles
his lines to a horrified Hamlet as he wafts his arms about his head…
ghostily.   The whole of his performance a turgid, bordering
on silly spookery.

      But
in spite of all of this, I can’t say that Grandage’s production
is bad.  Law is exciting and powerful at times.  The play
itself is well-realized – it’s just simplistic.  It’s a production
that focuses on realizing the plot, rather than the characters, and
certainly the subtext.  Don’t go expecting to see the production
explore the intensely political or philosophical elements of Shakespeare’s
masterpiece.  Don’t go expecting to see something new, really. 
That’ll have to wait for another director.  But hey, you could
still go to see Jude Law walk like an ape.  I had never seen that
before, that’s for certain.

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